On the Shelf Review – Folk Medicine of the Pennsylvania Germans, The Non-Occult Cures

I’d been putting off reading Brendle and Unger’s Folk Medicine of the Pennsylvania Germans:  The Non-Occult Cures for some time.  Given that it was the first of two volumes, with the second unpublished one dealing with charms and other magical cures, and that most people think of charms when they think of The Long-Lost Friend, I didn’t see it as being of much use.  Now that I’ve read it, though, I think I’m going to buy my own copy.

Brendle and Unger’s book is an impressive undertaking, intended to be the first in a series on the non-traditional medical practices of the Pennsylvania Germans.  After a brief introduction outlining the scope of the  book, the authors then discuss various theories of illness, its causes, and its relief.  Following these are sections devoted to ailments known to the Pennsylvania Germans, including everything from colic to skin diseases to gout, providing the Pennsylvania German, German, and English names for each.  For each of these, the folk beliefs regarding their causation, prognosis, and cures are given.  Though most of these cures rely upon natural remedies such as herbs for their efficacy, the “non-occult” label is not always accurate, as remedies via association and even verbal charms are included at points.  Ironically, this would likely have been more of an issue if the other volumes had been printed.

The above is followed with an impressive annotated bibliography of sources, including books, manuscripts, and almanacs, with notes as to where the material within might be found.  The same is not done with the oral sources, sadly, so we have no idea where much of the material in the book might have been collected.  Nonetheless, it is quite a valuable resource.

What does this book have to do with The Long-Lost Friend?  Nothing directly, though Hohman’s charm book is referred to obliquely at one point.   Nonetheless, it devotes considerable space to Hohman’s 1818 release, Die Land- und Haus-Apotheke, which seems to have several charms similar to those that appear in The Long-Lost Friend.   I was also able to determine the source of another item in Hohman from the bibliography, and it’s likely that the list of illnesses and remedies will be lengthened as the project continues.  The work is a great source for anyone interested in Pennsylvania German healing, whether medicinal or magical, and I recommend it highly.

Published in: on May 15, 2010 at 2:44 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. […] On the Shelf Review – Folk Medicine of the Pennsylvania Germans, The Non-Occult Cures « … […]

  2. […] Yesterday, I headed to Cornell with M. and a friend to get some material for the book.  The Brendle and Unger book revealed a few potential sources for Hohman, all of which are in the Early American Imprints […]


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